“Disasters are a leading cause of hunger, affecting all aspects of food security: economic and physical access to food, availability and stability of supplies, and nutrition,” according to the World Food Programme. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that as much as 25 percent of the damage and economic losses caused by disasters in developing countries falls on the agriculture sector – a huge problem when we consider the sheer number of people dependent on agriculture worldwide.
The immediate losses of homes and lives caused by Hurricane Harvey have been devastating in Texas:
But these numbers don’t fully capture the long-term and long-range effects the disaster may have on food security and the economy, particularly for farmers in Texas and beyond. Whether left in the fields or stored in bulk, crops such as grain, corn, wheat cotton are all likely to be affected.
“I can’t think of a crop that is designed to handle four feet of rain in a short period of time,” Mike Steenhoek said in a recent interview. Steenhoek is the executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. While many crops in Texas have already been harvested, anything still waiting for harvest will be at a risk of a total loss. Crops that have been harvested – rice, corn and the like – are at risk of contamination from floodwaters.
Even crops shipped from other states are at risk because of structural damage to infrastructure. Damage to roads and railroad lines may cause grain elevator operators to lower commodity prices that are paid to farmers from as far away as Kansas and Illinois. Steenhoek estimates that nearly a quarter of the country’s wheat is shipped through the Texas Gulf region, creating uncertainty for farmers across the country.
The road to recovery from Hurricane Harvey will be long. The pictures and videos coming across the news wires today are important calls to action to respond in the here-and-now, but as a recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune points out, “it’s important to remember Houston and neighboring areas once the sun is shining” and the storm (and media attention) has passed. Lutheran Disaster Response, the ELCA’s primary ministry accompanying communities faced by disaster, has been hard at work through its affiliate in the area to respond to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. But we know from experience that this will be a years-long effort. Local congregations and affiliates of Lutheran Disaster Response are still at work in communities now years past their own disasters.
We also know that hurricane season is far from over, and even now, authorities are keeping a close eye on Hurricane Irma as it winds its way across the Atlantic.
It may be easy to see vulnerability to storms like Harvey as a regional issue, but with the widespread effects on food supply and livelihoods for farmers, the effects of disaster aren’t limited by regional or state borders. Thankfully, neither is the concern of our church and of other people of goodwill. Please keep in your prayers the people affected – directly or indirectly – by the storm, the first-responders working tirelessly to assist victims and the many folks who will be invested in long-term recovery.
For more information on the recovery effort, visit the Lutheran Disaster Response blog to sign up for updates. You can also read an article featuring interviews with staff from Lutheran Disaster response here. To support Lutheran Disaster Response’s accompaniment of communities affected by Hurricane Harvey and other hurricanes in the United States, please visit https://community.elca.org/ushurricanerelief?_ga=2.153566650.3498744.1504023048-1341912399.1476461047.